The entrance to a grief support group meeting? That’s one truly daunting threshold. Stepping across it means two things: I’m acknowledging my membership in the Crappiest Club Ever, and I’m admitting I can’t survive alone. I went to my first Umbrella Ministry meeting just a few weeks after we lost Kai. The chaplain at the Medical Examiner’s office mentioned the group, and I literally shook my head “no” while we talked on the phone. A few days later, a kind woman called me to give her condolences as another bereaved mother, and to invite me to a meeting. Again, thanks, but no thanks. Then came two emails from other moms. Nope.
Two days before the meeting, one of my homeschool mommy friends stopped me at our co-op day. Had I heard of this ministry? Yeah, it’s at her mother-in-law’s home and I should go. I remember looking upwards and making that noise, the same throat-clearing sigh an irritated 14 year old makes. For whatever reason, I supposed to be at that meeting.
Was it too soon to go? Maybe, but twelve years old is also too soon to lose a son. I returned one of the emails, an invitation for a ride there, and could already feel my butt clenching. This was going to be horrible. A room full of grieving mothers? What could be more raw or more depressing? So much sadness and pain gathered into one place would be worse than a group meeting at a hardscrabble drug rehab. “Hi, my name’s Dawn, and I’m a grieving mother. It’s been two days since I’ve cried.”
That meeting, and the ones I’ve attended since, did not meet any of my expectations. There is a lot of Kleenex, and patting of knees and shoulders, and long, unflinching eye contact. There is a rawness that is palpable, like poking a rare steak on the grill. Our nametags include a heart for our child’s name, and some women have more than one heart. Walking into the first meeting was almost impossible, and leaving it was just as hard.
What’s missing are the platitudes and uncomfortable foot shuffling. What I expected – and didn’t find – were hopeless, suicidal, grieving mothers. What I expected was a room full of me.
At my first meeting, some of us were new, so new we were still anesthetized from shock. Some of the mothers were years into their journeys. “Why?” I thought, “Why would they still be here so many years later? Oh … oh my God. They’re still grieving. They’re not better yet because better doesn’t exist. Oh my God. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” And then I remembered I hadn’t driven myself. What was I going to do? Stand out on the patio by myself? I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first mom.
But I stayed. I stayed and listened to the Scripture and message. It was the story of the widow’s mite:
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
– Mark 12:41—44
This mother, who had lost her son over 20 years ago, explained that the widow gave everything she had. Everything. “Our children are a gift from God,” she said, “and we had to give them back sooner than we anticipated. When we give our children to God, we give everything we have. We give everything. The Lord sees our sacrifice. He knows, and he understands.”
I knew then that I wasn’t alone. These other moms understood, and they were pointing me to the Source of their Hope. The Lord had brought me to this group of women so that I didn’t have to make the journey alone. I left that day feeling the tiniest bit hopeful, and encouraged, and comforted.
At today’s meeting, a mom who lost who newborn son shared her gift of hope. She created and distributes weighted teddy bears, “The Comfort Cub,” to grieving mothers. She explained the pain many of us feel, like our hearts are literally breaking, is a real condition: Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. I burst into tears. What I feel is real? Suddenly, I felt validated. And holding that heavy bear reminded me of holding my newborn Kai. My baby. My son. My gift back to God.